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November is a time for fall, family, and giving thanks.  But it's also a time for reflection, and for raising awareness for a disease that, though extremely prevalent, tends to get less attention than it so direly needs and deserves.  That disease is Alzheimer’s.

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Alzheimer’s Awareness Month began back in 1983, when President Reagan created it in an effort to aid the then 2 million Americans diagnosed.  Today, the disease has grown to affect more than double that many patients, and, consequently, exponentially more family members, caregivers, and friends, making this month’s devotion to the cause that much more important.  I too have personally been affected by this disease, and my connection is one filled with both sadness and hope — I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s just two years ago.  Since then, I’ve advocated for a cure every day through my membership to Sigma Kappa Sorority, where I work alongside my best friends to raise funds and awareness for this heartbreaking disease.  Both of these things have shown me firsthand just how crucial it is that we recognize the relevance of the issue and raise awareness on behalf of the cause. 

Though awareness efforts have increased in recent years with celebrities like Seth Rogen writing articles, making speeches, and starting foundations, and President Obama releasing a call to action on the White House website, we still have a long way to go in recognizing the urgency this disease commands. Now is the time for you, personally, to learn about Alzheimer’s, who it affects, and how — even in the smallest way — you can start making a difference.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, an umbrella term used to describe diseases that lead to impaired memory, reasoning, and brain functionality.  It most commonly appears in older patients, and for that reason can go unnoticed or untreated on account of being dismissed as a natural part of aging.  It causes basic memory loss, recognition and cognitive impairment, trouble with communication and even motor skills, difficulty paying attention and solving problems, and, as a combination of all of these factors and more, can eventually lead to death.  It's a progressive disease, and though there are treatments that slow its progress, researchers have yet to find an effective cure.  Currently, nearly 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s or a similar form of dementia.  Their families face the emotional effects of patient care, as well as the financial and time burdens that accompany treatment.

Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention

One of the most important things you can do as a loved one of someone who may have, or is at risk of developing, Alzheimer’s is to be aware of what it looks like so that you can take immediate steps to prevent its development.  Some things you might notice that could be symptoms or signs include:

Being confused by time or place - This can include getting lost somewhere the patient has been before, or being confused over how and when they got there.

Rambling speech - Such as repeating the same words or phrases over and over.

Aimless wandering - At home or in a public location, seemingly dazed or with no purpose.

Difficulty problem solving - Especially with problems that seem simple to other family members or that have never bothered them in the past.

Loss of recent memories - For example, forgetting a conversation that just occurred, something recently learned, or events from the past few days.

Mood swings - Being quick to anger, showing increased frustration or symptoms of depression.

Misplacing things - Struggling to recall where they may have put something, where they have been that day, or even what the item looks like.

Trouble with comprehension and judgement - For example, difficulty interpreting speech or symbols, difficulty understanding situations, changes in or lack of proper judgement. 

I've personally been affected by this disease, and my connection is one filled with both sadness and hope — I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s just two years ago.

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What You Can Do To Help

As scary as this disease sounds, there are many organizations and researchers committed to finding a cure.  In order for them to truly make a difference, they need your help and support.  Get involved in any way you can, even if it's small.  A little determination goes a long way, and you could be the first step the 5.4 million American Alzheimer’s patients, and future patients to come, need in erasing this disease forever.

Walk to End Alz

Hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association, the walk is an annual fundraising event held in locations all around the country.  It’s a really fun event to rally people, and funds, behind the cause.  I’ve personally had the pleasure of attending for the past 3 years, and each time have felt an amazing sense of community and pride in knowing I’m making a difference.  Though many of the 2016 walks have already taken place, there are still some locations that have yet to hold one.  Plus, there’s always next year or the chance to start up your own team or even organize your own fundraiser!  Visit act.alz.org to get started.

Hilarity for Charity

This is an organization started by Seth Rogen (I know, he's the best) that hosts a celebrity fundraiser every year, but also has programs that you and your friends can get involved with.  One is known as HFC U, which encourages college student organizations to host their own fundraisers such as kickball tournaments, variety shows, and dance-a-thons.  HFC provides all the necessary tools to get you started, plus the org that raises the most money can win a visit from Seth himself!  Another is the Birthday Program, which encourages you to ‘donate’ your birthday to the cause by requesting that your friends and family donate to Hilarity for Charity instead of buying you birthday presents.  Check out the website to learn about the other many ways you can get involved.

The Longest Day

Another fundraising event hosted by the Alzheimer’s Association, this is a fun event held every year on the summer solstice that encourages teams or individuals to donate and participate by taking part in activities such as swimming, hiking, dancing, crafting, gardening, reading, and playing music.  There’s something for everyone to enjoy, so you can pick an activity you want to do, or honor a loved one by taking part in one of their favorite hobbies.  Plus, all the money raised by you and your team goes directly to finding a cure.  Register now for the 2017 longest day on June 21!

Honor a Caregiver

Though this one is not about raising money for patients in need, it's still a thoughtful, much needed movement that you should contribute to, especially if you personally know caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients (and even if you don’t!).  All you do is log on to the Alzheimer’s Association website, and leave a tribute message to a caregiver you know, or for all caregivers out there, to show your appreciation and support.  Caregivers are so important to those that combat the disease, dedicating their lives to make the lives of patients better.  The least we can do is thank them!

Take the Pledge

Want to be part of big, nationwide change?  It’s not as hard as you think!  By registering as an advocate online, you are not only vocalizing your commitment to the cause, but you're signing up to receive updates about events you can participate in to influence national policy and increase awareness.  Register here.  

Your School’s Sigma Kappa

All sororities and fraternities have philanthropies that they support and raise money for.  My sorority, Sigma Kappa, works closely with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Sigma Kappa Foundation to host events and raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.  If you're in college or live near a college campus, try to get out and support your Sigma Kappa’s philanthropy events.  By donating or participating, you can help them make a change without even leaving your school.

DIY Fundraising

If none of these sound like your cup of tea, don’t worry — pretty much anything can be made into a fundraising event that will be enjoyable for you, and beneficial for the cause.  BBQs, car washing, trivia night, raffles, and more can be great ways to get your school, friend group, or local community involved.  Read more great DIY ideas on the Alzheimer’s Society of the UK’s page, then learn how to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, here.

“A little determination goes a long way, and you could be the first step the 5.4 million American Alzheimer’s patients, and future patients to come, need in erasing this disease forever.

 

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